Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on Thursday signed a landmark reconciliation agreement in Cairo.
"The two sides agreed in principle to allow the legitimate Palestinian government to return to Gaza in accordance with [Palestinian] law," Azzam al-Ahmad, who led Fatah's delegation at the Cairo talks, said at a news conference.
"We also agreed that the [Ramallah-based Palestinian] government would operate Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt and all of Gaza’s crossings with Israel," he added.
The deal dictates that Presidential Guard units linked to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) would be deployed along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt no later than Nov. 1, according to al-Ahmad.
He also said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- who heads the PA and the Ramallah government -- had instructed members of the Fatah delegation to "end the state of Palestinian division once and for all".
Al-Ahmad also praised Egypt's role in helping achieve Palestinian national reconciliation and providing a venue for the talks.
Speaking from Ramallah on Thursday, Abbas said the landmark agreement would go a long way towards ending years of bitter division between the two factions.
"President Abbas has instructed the government, and all of its institutions, to work hard towards the implementation of what has been agreed to in Cairo," Palestine’s official Wafa news agency reported.
Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas's influential Political Bureau, also voiced appreciation for the role played by Egypt to sponsor inter-Palestinian dialogue.
“Hamas will spare no effort to turn this agreement into a reality with a view to confronting the Zionist project and establishing a sovereign state of Palestine," al-Arouri said.
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s acting chief in Gaza, congratulated Abbas on the watershed agreement.
“Sinwar congratulated President Abbas by phone on the completion of the national reconciliation project,” Fatah -- of which Abbas serves as chairman -- said in a statement.
According to one Palestinian official, Abbas may soon visit the blockaded Gaza Strip -- for the first time in 10 years -- in light of the diplomatic success in Cairo.
“President Abbas has repeatedly stressed his readiness to visit Gaza,” Majid al-Fitiani, secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday. “But this depends on the full implementation of the Cairo agreement, especially the unity government's assumption of all administrative and security responsibilities.”
He went on to say Abbas planned to reverse all measures he had recently taken against the Gaza Strip, that has been governed by Hamas since 2007.
According to a Palestinian source close to the Cairo talks, the agreement calls for the Fatah-led Palestinian unity government to assume full political and administrative control of the Gaza Strip by Dec.1.
The same source, who preferred anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to media, said Hamas and Fatah agreed to allow the unity government to assume full responsibility for all of Gaza’s border crossings by Nov. 1.
The source added that security officials from Ramallah would soon hold a series of meetings in Gaza with their counterparts from Hamas to discuss means of handing over security responsibility for the blockaded coastal enclave.
The two factions, the same source continued, had also agreed to allow a legal and administrative committee, drawn up earlier in Ramallah, to find solutions to longstanding problems -- mostly related to salary shortfalls -- faced by Gaza’s Hamas-hired civil servants.
“According to the Cairo agreement, this committee will wrap up its work sometime before Feb. 1,” the source said.
The Ramallah government, he added, had vowed to pay all outstanding salaries owed to Gaza’s public servants.
And on Dec. 1, the same source said, Hamas and Fatah officials would meet again in Cairo to assess implementation of the agreement.
Two weeks before prior to the meeting, another meeting will be held Nov. 14 in Cairo between representatives of all Palestinian factions to discuss “mechanisms” for implementing the reconciliation agreement.
Turkey welcomed the “reconciliation reached between our Palestinian brothers that was announced today,” that country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that added Ankara would continue to support "all its Palestinian brothers".
Earlier Thursday, Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh confirmed that the two factions had hammered out an agreement following a week of intense talks in Cairo.
Cairo is currently leading efforts to heal the decade-long political split between Gaza-based Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah movement.
In a major step towards reconciliation last week, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (who heads up the Ramallah government) held his first Cabinet meeting in Gaza since the unity government was formed in 2014.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained politically and administratively divided since 2007, when Hamas wrested control of the strip from Fatah following several days of street fighting.
Hamas’s capture of Gaza in 2007 ended an earlier -- if short-lived -- unity government established after Hamas swept 2006 Palestinian legislative polls.